The Daily Telegraph

What’s what Everything you need to know about the Government’s clash with WhatsApp


Q What is WhatsApp?

A WhatsApp is a free, end-to-end encrypted instant messaging service for smartphone­s, allowing users to make voice calls, video calls and send text messages over the internet, without incurring a data fee. It was bought by Facebook for $19.3 billion (£24 billion) in 2014. The site has one billion users.

Q What is the row about? A The Government has been concerned for several years that spies are not able to listen to or monitor messages sent by WhatsApp because of a key system that keeps the messages secret, effectivel­y allowing a safe space for extremists to discuss plots without fear of intercepti­on.

The row has reached a new level after it emerged that Adrian Ajao sent a WhatsApp message to someone minutes before starting his murderous spree in Westminste­r on Wednesday.

Q What can the Government do?

A Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said yesterday that technology companies should no longer be able to provide encrypted messaging services that cannot be accessed in emergencie­s by the security services.

Ms Rudd said it was “completely unacceptab­le” that the police and security services were shut out from messages of this kind and wants to hold an industry meeting this week to discuss what can be done.

Ms Rudd refused to rule out passing new legislatio­n to tackle encrypted messaging and the posting of extremist material online.

However, because WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook are based in the US, the legal options are limited.

Q Why doesn’t WhatsApp hand over messages?

A Officially WhatsApp says that it is “cooperatin­g with law enforcemen­t as they continue their investigat­ions” into the murders by Ajao. But this does not extend to handing over the messages because the firm says it cannot.

A company source says: “With end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp does not have access to the content of messages. Only the sender and the recipient can read the messages on their devices.”

Q Is WhatsApp a platform or a publisher?

A Crucially WhatsApp maintains that it is an internet platform that does not have any control over the messages that it carries.

But Ms Rudd said that the Government considers them to be “publishing companies”, like broadcaste­rs and newspapers.

If this is the case, the status of WhatsApp and other social media messaging service is likely to be determined in the courts.

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